Out of South Africa: English - as she is spoke in Sefrika, men

JOHANNESBURG - Now that white South Africans are considered to be acceptable members of the human race it might be appropriate to try and become acquainted with one of their languages - the one they call English. Idiom, pronunciation and Afrikaans penetration are the three terrains of idiosyncrasy on which the foreigner will have to battle.

'Howzit?', literally translated as 'how is it?' is the most common form of greeting. The question, in truth, does not demand an answer. When English-speaking white South Africans say 'howzit?' what they really mean is 'hallo'.

But 'hah ewe?', meaning 'how are you?' should be taken as a genuine inquiry. The conventional reply, 'fahn', means 'fine', a phonetic variation on Queen's English which remains consistent in such instances as 'nahss' ('nice') and 'raht' ('right').

'Men' means man (though you can use it to address a woman) and is used commonly as in American English to complete a short conversational sentence. The same phonetic logic applies in words like 'flet' ('flat') and 'feb' (short for 'fabulous').

'Lekker' is an Afrikaans word which means 'sweet', strictly speaking, but in everyday conversation might best be translated as 'great' or 'super', as in 'that was a lekker meal we had last naht'. 'Jol' (pronounced 'jawl') is very popular among the young white things and means 'party' or 'groove', as in 'let's jol, doll'. Most of the other Afrikaans words used in the course of conversational South African English are too impolite to translate.

A case in point was provided during a recent test match between South Africa and Australia at the Wanderers, Johannesburg's Lord's. Shane Warne was fielding at third man when two South Africa supporters appeared on the boundary behind him and held up a sign which read, in pure Afrikaans, skaapsteker. (Clue: 'skaap' means 'sheep'.) Warne, who had done his homework, glowered at one of the two men and shouted, in an improper anatomical reference to his mother, 'Jou ma is 'n poes' - which rhymes with puss.

Since most Afrikaners speak English, English is certain soon to become South Africa's de facto official language. So once you've got used to the pronunciation ('yiss', incidentally, is how they say 'yes'), it's the idiomatic expressions which will pose the only serious challenges.

Imagine you're at a restaurant, getting impatient for your meal. You ask the waitress when your kudu steak is coming. If she replies, 'Just now', you're in trouble. The steak's probably still in the bush. 'Now, now' is better, suggesting the steak has perhaps made it to the deep freeze.

Then again, you're in a mall, where the South African bourgeoisie spend most of their Saturday mornings, and you're taking your baby for a stroll in the pram. Two kugels - young women (usually Jewish) dressed, groomed and accessorised after the very latest fashion - look inside the pram. 'Ag, look, men. Shame],'coos kugel A. 'Shame]' echoes kugel B.

Do not be alarmed. They are not suggesting your baby is pitiably ugly. On the contrary. Shame can mean shame but it can also mean 'adorable'.

'Shame' can convey dripping admiration but it can also convey dry disdain: 'England got thrashed at rugby by Natal]' 'Shame.' Or it can express genuine distress: 'Shame, men] Shame]' might be the response to the news that you've broken your leg.

For the benefit of previous visitors to South Africa it might be as well to point out that some words you might have encountered a month ago are rapidly going out of date in the new South Africa. 'Garden boy' for a 65-year-old black man is not recommended. You do not call a black person a 'kaffir'. (Even Eugene Terreblanche has bowed before this brand of political correctness.) And, for those who were in South Africa some 30 years ago, 'niggerballs' for a particular kind of gobstopper is most definitely out.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Keith Fraser says we should give Isis sympathises free flights to join Isis (AFP)
news
Life and Style
A picture taken on February 11, 2014 at people walking at sunrise on the Trocadero Esplanade, also known as the Parvis des droits de l'homme (Parvis of Human Rights), in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
techGoogle celebrates Paris's iconic landmark, which opened to the public 126 years ago today
News
Cleopatra the tortoise suffers from a painful disease that causes her shell to disintegrate; her new prosthetic one has been custom-made for her using 3D printing technology
newsCleopatra had been suffering from 'pyramiding'
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Coachella and Lollapalooza festivals have both listed the selfie stick devices as “prohibited items”
music
Sport
Nigel Owens was targeted on Twitter because of his sexuality during the Six Nations finale between England and France earlier this month
rugbyReferee Nigel Owens on coming out, and homophobic Twitter abuse
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Web Designer / Front End Developer

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast expanding web managem...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor